Editor’s Note: Heather O’Reilly plays for the United States women’s national soccer team and is currently a midfielder for Sky Blue FC of Women’s Professional Soccer. Her soccer jersey was retired at the University of North Carolina where she was part of 2 teams that won National Championships. The New Jersey native was the youngest person on the Olympic team roster in Athens in 2004. In the semis, she scored a sudden death OT goal against Germany that propelled Team USA into the finals where they won the Gold Medal.
Sports Feel Good Stories caught up with O’Reilly as she was helping promote CooperVision’s Contact Sports program – a program that is teaching teens that healthy vision can help performance both on and off the field.
The Heather O’Reilly Interview – Sports Feel Good Stories
Sports Feel Good Stories: At what age do you think youth soccer players should specialize in soccer? Why? Also, please comment on how much soccer per week is a good amount for a 10-year-old? A 15-year-old?
Heather O’Reilly: I played basketball all through high school as well, so I’m a huge advocate of playing multiple sports because the cross-training is good, it’s good to stay fresh and keep your passion for the game. If you’re serious about trying to play in college or at an elite level, by high school you should be making the commitment to soccer.
For 10-year-olds, two practices and a game per week is a good amount. For 15-year-olds, at the most 4 practices and a game.
SFGS: How did growing up with 3 brothers help you in your athletic pursuits?
Heather O’Reilly: It toughened me up a little bit, and gave me a lot of self-confidence and strength in my self-esteem. They all played soccer, but my whole family was soccer players and track athletes. My brothers were always good about including me even though I was just the little sister. They thought it was pretty funny when I could beat their friends in a game of horse or football.
SFGS: As you look at youth soccer in the U.S., what skills do you think players should be placing more of a focus on?
Heather O’Reilly: It’s important to spend time with the ball and be comfortable with your skills. Youth players sometimes think they should only practice when their team is practicing, but if you want to make it to an elite level, you need to spend a lot more time with just you and the ball, and maybe a wall or the park. You need to be committed to it.
SFGS: In soccer juggling, what’s the highest count you’ve ever reached?
Heather O’Reilly: I’ve never really counted, but I’m guessing around 200…
SFGS: What is your favorite thing about the sport of soccer?
Heather O’Reilly: My favorite thing about it is that it’s a team sport. You bring your individual talents to the table, but it’s really neat how an entire team comes together and you can rely on each other to bring the best out of each other.
SFGS: What was more exciting for you: winning the state high school tournament or winning the Olympic Gold medal the first time or the second time? Why?
Heather O’Reilly: I’ve been lucky to have won a lot of different tournaments at different levels, each being very memorable. Obviously playing for your country is amazing, and nothing’s sweeter than playing for the US.
SFGS: Who do you think are the best 3 female soccer players? The 3 best male soccer players? Who was your favorite soccer player growing up?
Female – current Shannon Boxx, Marta, Abby Wambach
Male – Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Xavi
Favorite growing up was Mia Hamm
SFGS: What’s it like to be an Olympic athlete for the first time? Looking back, what did you like most about the Olympic experience off the field?
Heather O’Reilly: My favorite memory of the first Olympic Games was eating in the Olympic Village and being with all the athletes from around the world and sharing that time together. Seeing everybody’s country on the back of their warm-ups and sharing that experience in the Village.
SFGS: What is the secret to successful soccer?
Heather O’Reilly: The secret is to enjoy it and to realize your individual strengths and what makes you different from everyone else. For me, that was my work ethic and athleticism. But never lose your passion.
SFGS: If you weren’t a soccer player, what would you be doing?
Heather O’Reilly: I would probably be a teacher – my degree from the University of North Carolina was in middle grades education – and I’d probably focus on social studies.
SFGS: What’s the best feel-good story in the game of soccer right now?
Heather O’Reilly: The coach of the US men’s team, Bob Bradley, is the father of one of the players on the team, Michael Bradley. I think it’s neat that they are able to experience that together, but also keeping their professionalism at the same time.
SFGS: What can you tell us about the Cooper Vision program? How did you get involved?
Heather O’Reilly: I’m working with CooperVision to kick off the Contact Sports program – we’re teaching teens that healthy vision can help your performance both on and off the field. It’s important to me because when I was in the 7th grade, I found myself scooting my chair closer and closer to the front of the room so I could see better. My teacher suggested I go to the eye doctor, and I immediately saw a difference on the field with contacts. For the first time, I could see things I never knew you were able to see – like a spin on the ball and the expressions on my teammate’s faces.
What we’re doing is helping teens across the country get the gear they need. If you visit www.mycontactsports.com you can find out about the 10, $2,500 grants we’re giving away. We’ll award deserving teams and athletes with grants to help them get the gear they need – everything from soccer balls to new equipment to free contact lenses.
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